These Jefas Created Cumbiatón The Ultimate Cumbia Dance Party For Queer, Undocumented, and Marginalized Folks
Photo by Paolo Riveros/Cumbiatón
For people who have felt especially isolated or disconnected during 2020, a few events are popping up to help people feel connected again. One of the events that the Los Angeles Latino community is most excited to attend again is Cumbiatón.
Cumbiatón’s founders describe the event as “an intergenerational cultural movement which utilizes music and art as a vessel to heal and uplift oppressed hood communities.”
Cumbiatón aims to “center womxn, trans, and queer people of color both on the dance floor and in the Dj booth.” In other words: Cumbiatón is a giant Latin dance party where marginalized people can freely be themselves in a safe and inclusive space. And after moving to an online-only format for the past year and a half, the dance party is finally resuming in-person gatherings again. Safely, of course.
In May 2017, friends and co-workers Zacil Pech and Norma Fajardo co-founded Cumbiatón. Both women worked at labor rights organizations for undocumented workers and were passionate about social justice. Coincidentally, both women moonlight as DJs. Pech goes by the name of DJ Sizzle Fantastic and Fajardo goes by Normz La Oaxaqueña.
At the end of their grueling work days, Pech and Fajardo noticed how they felt healed and even joyful after a night of dancing. It was then that the seeds of Cumbiatón began to sprout.
“Yes, we’re immigrants, yes, we’re queer, yes we’re marginalized, but that doesn’t mean we’re sad all the time, that doesn’t mean we’re struggling all the time,” Pech told Good Morning America. “And I think Cumbiatón is definitely a response to that, it’s a way for marginalized communities to come together on the dance floor and rejoice in our existence, our lives.”
Some people may be wondering, “Why cumbia?”; a genre of tropical folkloric music with origins in Colombia. Well, the answer is simple for these two Mexican-born DJs. “[Cumbia is] the music our parents would play on a Sunday cleaning the house, you’d just hear it all throughout the neighborhood,” said Fajardo to LA Mag. In others words: cumbia is home.
Pech and Fajardo’s first-ever event was at First Street Pool & Billiard Parlor in Boyle Heights. Since then, it has now grown into a dance party that almost 1,500 people attended (pre-COVID).
But once the pandemic hit, the event was forced to adapt. Almost as soon as public events started being postponed, Pech and Fajardo took Cumbiatón online. They enlisted DJs to play cumbia and reggaetón on Instagram Live. They even began to stream on Twitch. The collective continued to keep Cumbiatón alive for eight months.
Now, Cumbiatón is, once again, an in-person dance party. But the guest list is small, and attendees must be vaccinated. Of course, the in-person event sold out. But the Cumbiatón Collective, as the organizers call themselves, are still practicing an abundance of caution. “Covid is still happening, we’re still not fully comfortable with jumping in and having a big event so we’re taking it slow,” Fajardo told GMA.